Brescia University College

Canada’s Preeminent Women’s University

The only women’s university in Canada, Brescia University College has a rich history of educating and empowering women who go on to be active and vital participants in their communities.  Founded in 1919 in London, Ont. by the order of Ursuline Sisters of Chatham, a Catholic religious order of women deeply committed to what they saw as the inequities of the day for young women accessing education, Brescia maintains a stalwart commitment to the pursuit of education, with a focus on women in leadership. Brescia is affiliated with Western University. Students enrolled at Brescia receive a Western degree. Programs include a pre-university Preliminary Year Program, undergraduate degrees in Arts, Social Science, Management and Organizational Studies, Family Studies, Health Sciences, Kinesiology, and Foods and Nutrition with Specializations in Nutrition and Dietetics and Food Science and Technology. A graduate degree in Foods and Nutrition is also offered.

Though society has changed from Brescia’s founding year, Brescia’s vital role in the education of women has not. With smaller classes (student/faculty ration is 14:1), a focus on excellence and an atmosphere that is inclusive and free of intimidation, Brescia focuses on maximizing learning opportunities for its students, inside and outside of the classroom.

“We know statistically that more and more young women are accessing education,” says Dr. Colleen M. Hanycz, Principal at Brescia University College. “We are at the point where there are more female university graduates in recent years than men. Increasingly, we are more about the learning opportunity a women’s institution can provide for a primarily female audience. It’s less about women being able to go to university; it’s nice to say over the past 90-plus years that’s largely been corrected.”

Female-Centric Learning

American psychologist JoAnn Deak’s research on the conversion of brain development, socialization and psychology supports the notion that women learn differently and that there are ways to optimize that learning. Brescia works with researchers such as Deak to focus on ensuring that what happens inside and outside of the classroom maximizes students’ learning opportunities.

Studies show that women learn far more from one another than men do. So how does that translate to the classroom? “More group work, smaller groups, opportunities for presentation or learning within subsets of the larger class,” says Hanycz. A typical Brescia professor places more emphasis on that small group interaction than one might see in a co-ed environment and much more than in a research-intensive university. “That is something that I’m happy to say we’ve embraced at Brescia for a very long time intuitively,” continues Hanycz. “We’re looking very specifically at the scholarship of teaching and learning to guide our curriculum, with very focused, intense learning opportunities in order to maximize students’ outcomes.”

Outstanding Programs

Brescia has an almost 95-year history of strength in the liberal arts, a very robust foods and nutrition program,  and a unique Dimensions of Leadership module. “We are very proud of the work we have been able to do,” says Sheila Blagrave, Director of Communications, Marketing and External Relations. “We’re small, especially in those programs where the focus is very much on intense skill-development, critical thinking, and problem solving. It’s really hard to do that in a large class of 500 people. The commitment and achievements of our faculty members inspire our students to do great work and play an active role in their communities.”

Brescia is known to have the best foods and nutrition program in the country. “Absolutely Bar none,” says Hanycz. The combination of students who come to Brescia from all over the world to study nutrition, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, along with the top-of-the-class faculty has led to excellence.
Brescia’s legacy continues to grow year over year, with approximately 300 students graduating annually. While still careful to maintain a strong sense of community, Brescia has grown from its original class of seven women to 1,200 full-time students and 200 part-time students. This past September, a $31 million, state-of-the-art residence and dining pavilion complex was completed, much to the joy of students, faculty, and staff.

Says Registrar and Director of Student Affairs Marianne Simm, “With our increased student body and the needs of today’s students, we recognized the need for an expanded and updated residence for our students. A series of “houses” – each with small groupings of single rooms with bathrooms shared by a second room – provide a family-like atmosphere for 32 to 40 students. In total we now have room for 300 students to enjoy our warm residence community. The single-story marché style dining pavilion also accommodates 300 so we have been open to the public for meals, conferences, and weddings. Several stations, each serving fresh, made-to-order dishes with a planned emphasis on local foods, appeal to students and visitors alike. And our “in house” food services keep the bar very high.”

“We feel we’re at a size now that can deliver an experience that is second-to-none. We’ve been able to create a better experience year after year,” says Hanycz. “We are constantly reminding our students and ourselves about how bold, progressive, and inspirational St. Angela Merici, the founder of the order of Ursuline, was and how she proved that women can make a difference in the world. We are constantly reminding ourselves of those roots, and reminding our students of their ability to make that difference, and of their obligation to do so.”

“St. Angela Merici called upon people to “bestir themselves”  – in other words to “lean in” and to get out into the community and make things happen,” says Blagrave. “We place a real emphasis on making a difference at Brescia.”

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